Sunday, October 18, 2015


Lesley is chairman of the South West Schools Athletics Association. One a year she goes to the AGM, which is held at Wellington School in Somerset. I've got into the habit of spending at least part of the day walking in the woods around the Wellington Monument.

You may have seen on TV how the National Trust which owns the land up there has started felling trees in order to restore the view of the Blackdown Hills and the Quantocks from the monument. On the face of it this sounds like a reasonable idea, though it would be more impressive if they were doing something to stop the damage to the monument itself. You can't get at all close to it because bits of masonry keep falling off. You can see the damage even from outside the fence.

I couldn't see that the view had been improved all that much and the trees which have been cut down so far were fairly mature beech trees which had a beauty all of their own - rather more, in fact, than the monument or the view to be had from it. Next in line for the chop - and I seriously hope this isn't in the plan - are some truly massive beech trees. They must be at least as old as the monument and are basically the reason I go up there.

(There's meant to be a picture here, but for some reason it won't load. I'll put some pictures on Facebook - if I can get that to work......)

But that's not why I gave this post the title Schools.

Lesley wants to give up her work with Avon Schools. She took it on more than twenty years ago because the daughter had been badly let down by the teachers who ran it at the time. Over the years since then more and more people involved with the running of local schools athletics have dropped out - all for good reasons - and it's now reached the stage where Lesley is doing just about everything.

And it has to stop.

No PE teachers are coming forward to take over. To be fair, there are a couple from South Gloucester schools who are happy to help, but they have families to look after, school departments to run, so they aren't going to be willing or able to put in the hours that Lesley does.

I could go on about the state of PE in schools, but what would be the point? Other sports are now run entirely by clubs rather than by schools, with PE teachers happy to hand over to amateur clubs the running of things like county championships or county schools teams. Athletics is the honourable exception.

But maybe the time is coming when local clubs have to step up and say that they will be responsible for getting Avon athletes to English Schools. (Let's just remind ourselves here that in terms of the numbers of athletes involved English Schools remains the biggest athletics tournament in the world, and the one that any ambitious young athlete wants to go to). That would involve some reorganisation of the county championships and the South West Schools, which is another excellent meeting.

Neither Lesley nor I have any answers to this. Government policy over the years has done a great deal of damage and things are reaching the stage where amateurs are not going to be able to make up the deficit.

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